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Riff Raff 

Virginal Sacrifices and Live! Nude! Stupid!

Wednesday, Sep 15 1999
Virginal Sacrifices "This one's for somebody in San Francisco, this one's going to Boston," says Gary Blaise, standing in his workshop and pointing at the clavichords he's currently building for clients. Since 1981, Blaise has been living in a world of Baroque instrumentation: He constructs harpsichords, clavichords, and organs out of his SOMA workshop (he shares space with the Voice Farm studios, which we wrote about last week). The place is a riot of wood of various shapes and sizes; leaning against a wall is a remnant from a 140-year-old piano, which Blaise plans to use to build new instruments. It was no great shakes as a piano, but Blaise says he can probably get two good harpsichords out of it. "Old wood is more acoustically lively," he points out.

The clavichord was the first stringed keyboard instrument, built in the 15th century as a practice instrument; compact and quiet, it doesn't usually lend itself to performance, though C.P.E. Bach composed for and played the instrument in the 18th century and, by all accounts, did so amazingly. Blaise's clavichords are based on those German models, and they don't come cheap, running into the low- to mid-five figures. "They're really made better in a cottage industry setting sort of like this," says Blaise. "They don't lend themselves to bulk and mass production like a piano does." He makes and sells construction kits as well, though he doesn't encourage most people to buy them. "You have to be really good at crafts and things to build a kit properly."

Blaise keeps busy; he's working on upward of four instruments simultaneously. And, for those who weren't paying attention, the Bay Area is an early music hotbed: Blaise is one of four local builders of Baroque-era instruments competing for clients. "The Bay Area is the Number 1 early music center in the U.S.," says Laurette Goldberg, founder and creative director of the Berkeley keyboard museum and performance space MusicSources, as well as founder of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Goldberg, who "fell in love with Bach at 11 and never got over it," credits the local intellectual community and the S.F. Early Music Society for boosting the popularity and interest in older classical works, not to mention the relatively large numbers of builders in the area. "Care and feeding of builders is very dear to my heart," she says.

But the first thing you notice in Blaise's workshop isn't the array of travel clavichords under construction. In one corner, standing 9 1/2 feet tall, is Blaise's labor of love -- an albatross: a pipe organ built entirely out of wood. Boasting 300 pipes and only now nearing completion after 2 1/2 years of work, it's a testament to uselessness, at least by our modern reckoning of utility. All it can do is be beautiful. When Blaise tests it out by playing a pavane by 15th-century English composer Peter Philips, the sound is otherworldly, eerie in its stately charm. But there's no particular market for the creature, and, looking at it, one wonders if Blaise could even move it out the door. "It's so much easier and more practical to make an organ with metal pipes, electric wind, and a lot of hardware store connectors," says Blaise. "This celebrates simple things like wood and air. It's a very elemental thing."

Live! Nude! Stupid! Here they come, one by one, wearing tight white smiles and tight white T-shirts. "They" would be models, assembling last Thursday in front of Kelly's Mission Rock bearing boxes of Vodka, condoms, and other gewgaws to promote, a Web magazine launched last week as "the first destination site for men." Those who learned to type "Pamela Anderson" into a search engine four years ago might disagree with that statement, but Rouze -- as all new Web sites are, of course -- is different. Billing itself as "Unapologetically male," Rouze is designed with the same credos as Maxim, Gear, and the other tits-and-toys rags that have cropped up in the past few years for newly rich, cashed-out techheads with too much time on their hands: "edgy" travel features, interviews with "edgy" celebrities, commentaries on the "edgy" new electronic devices ("Do You Need a Palm Pilot VII?"), and, naturally, pictorials of nude women. Tastefully done, of course.

The women involved ("Rouze Girls") are responsible for promoting the site, which, on this night, involved handing out pens. Now, Riff Raff doesn't particularly enjoy going to cocktail parties, and especially dislikes that Bay Area institution of the "site launch cocktail party." For, though, an exception can be made, if only because it's one of the most unintentionally hilarious magazines -- print or online -- to appear (or launch) in some time. Setting aside the main focus of the site, which would be the pictorials, we decided to read for the articles. There are the mundane and obvious guy-focused how-to features -- how to buy a cigar, how to order a martini, how to cook a meal, how to get stoned in Amsterdam, how to date a co-ed. And then there's "Pretend You've Read," a section that a) assumes men don't read ("You've got beer to drink, sports to watch on TV, girls to chase," says the editor's note) and b) says that pretending you do will get you laid. In a Cliffs Notes-lite assessment of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, suggests this can't-fail pickup line:

The thing I like about Jane Austen, in general, is her cutting wit and use of irony to disclose the buffoonery and pomposity of the upper class. But at the same time, with sharp, realistic strokes, she paints an incredibly vivid portrait of ...

There's more, but we'll stop there. If this line works for any men reading -- the ones who do read, anyhow -- we want to hear about it.

Rouze Girls will be rollerblading in Golden Gate Park on Sept. 18.

About The Author

Mark Athitakis


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